“Time flies by when you’re having fun” and ne’er a truer word spoken. It is 5th July 2016 and we have now been on the road for an entire year. In that time we have covered almost 20,000 miles, passed through nineteen different countries and crossed three major sea crossings (English Channel, Straits of Hormuz and the Arabian Sea) and all of this has delivered us safely to the beautiful country of Thailand.
Both bikes are holding up well. They are both fourteen years old now with over 80,000 miles on the clock and feel just as good as when they were new. There have been a few minor niggles but nothing unexpected or too major and for the first time ever on our motorcycle travels we’ve suffered a few punctures. Yet all of these little failure episodes lead to rich, unplanned encounters and strange locations that would be missed had it all gone according to plan. Our kit has mostly held up well with one or two notable exceptions, chiefly Maggie’s crash helmet; a ‘Schuberth C3 Woman.’ Maggie was attracted to the flip-front helmet as the shell is specifically made to fit a woman’s head and the helmet is light and seemed comfortable. However the Schuberth has simply fallen apart over the last 12 months due to a combination of poor materials and bad design. We are desperate to replace it in either Bangkok or Singapore… In contrast one item that has been outstanding and worthy of mention is my ‘RST Pro Series Adventure 2 Jacket’. This was a low budget item (British designed) that I came across when perusing much more expensive Rukka kit at three times the price (I discarded the latter as I could only find dark coloured jackets, which would be a nightmare to wear in hot climes). The RST is modular with removable thermal and waterproof linings. I suspect it might need additional thermal layers in really cold climates and can’t really vouch for the waterproof layer, as I haven’t used it (in any case I have a one-piece overall wetsuit for use in the rain). Where the RST wins is in its amazing array of mesh panels in chest, all the way down the arms and across the shoulders that really work in the heat providing much needed airflow.
Since our Pan-American trip, twelve years ago, there are a number of significant changes in what we are carrying on the bikes. Back then we had half a pannier full of books, from hefty guidebooks to leisure material, plus an armful of maps. This is all gone, the books replaced by Kindle and iPad with an unlimited amount of reading material available. We still use paper maps but these are acquired and given away on a country-by-country basis and mostly useful for ‘big-picture’ planning. Instead we have our Garmin GPS (using free open source maps) and the superb Maps.me app (also free) for local navigation.
Our year on the road has been an incredible journey that has taken us through yet more of the most amazing places on the planet. One of the delights of travel is that at home you can plan and read about something foreign, be it mountain or river, castle or palace, savoury dish or sandwich. You build up a sketchy outline in your mind of what you think it might really be like. Then when you actually roll up on location that outline can be beautifully filled in, completed with every resplendent texture and colour, taste and odour, sound and vision (this is all enhanced even more when you roll up on a motorcycle).
Thus we have come to behold such natural wonders as the Transfăgărășan Pass in Romania, Pamukkale and Cappadocia in Turkey, the beautiful desert wastelands of Rajasthan and the spectacular Himalayan foothills around Darjeeling. Add to this a smattering of astonishing man made marvels, both ancient and modern, such as Spis castle in Slovakia, The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, The Taj Mahal and the Amber Palace in India, the temples of Bagan in Myanmar and Angkor Wat in Cambodia and our favourite so far on this trip; Hampi in India. Then there has been the food assault… from the simple but utterly delicious Masala Dosa, for a breakfast in India that will sustain you all day, to mashing up a Dizi in Iran; a delicious runny meat and vegetable stew served in a sort of mortar and pestle. It is eaten by grinding the contents to a paste, then pouring off the liquor to eat separately with freshly baked flatbread. There is a dish that needs serious nap afterwards.
The impact of our travels on body and mind has all been beneficial. I have lost almost one stone in weight. I have a hiatus hernia that required daily meds back in the UK. I’ve stopped taking these, attributable in part to the weight loss but also to the more active lifestyle and probably a healthier diet. We have found once again that our life is so much simpler without a lot of stuff in it. All the material things we stashed away before leaving home are forgotten and unmissed and everything on our bikes has a use and a purpose. If it doesn’t it gets discarded, as it is so obviously not contributing to the journey.
This has been our first time travelling through Asia and our ride has taken us through a large swathe of the Islamic world from Istanbul via Iran to India. On the way we never met any hatred or hostility, only smiling faces and warm hospitality from graceful people keen to show us tolerance and understanding and willing us success in our travels. Then on through the lands of Shiva and the Buddha with ever more spectacular landscapes, temples and dishes to tempt the palette. Always we are beneficiaries of that hospitality to travellers.
We left the UK in hot sunny weather and the thermometer has rarely dipped below 30°C on this great ride east. It’s been mostly dry too, even now in South East Asia where we were expecting the Monsoon to interrupt play. Sadly I think this is all part of our witnessing the start of one of the next challenges for the world, one that could lead to major ecological disaster; Water. We have passed drought-stricken lands from Iran, across India and now here in Cambodia where they are having their worst drought in over a decade and lush green paddy fields are reduced to shallow mud patch. In India, levels of the Ganges are reported to be down by a staggering 25% this year with a disastrous impact and hundreds of farmers making headline news after committing suicide as a consequence of crop failure. When last years crop failed many borrowed money from racketeers to tide them over a bad period, but successive crop failures have led them to the point where they can no longer afford to repay the loans. One story even told of a guy selling one of his kidneys to gangsters just to raise loan interest payments. Overpopulation is really telling on water usage to the point where the actual water table and underground aquifers are disappearing, features that geologists reckon will take centuries to recover. It is something we take for granted yet life will be impossible in these areas without water.
Another big change since our Pan-American ride is the impact of Smart phones and I already mentioned the usefulness of apps such as Maps.me in helping us find our way around new places. But sadly it seems that the world is retreating into these devices and the number of times we’ve looked around little cafes and restaurants to see whole tables, whether families or groups of friends, all sitting in isolation peering into these soulless, life-sucking windows. Even worse, the selfie-stick; the Wand of Hedonism, the Ego-Stick and potential key to your very own ‘Darwin Award’ in a year when more people have died taking ‘selfies’ than have been killed by sharks. We have seen people get all dressed up to go to some amazing area of outstanding natural beauty with the prime mission; to take their own photograph there. We have been horrified at the sight of a bunch of young tourists at Choueng Ek, the infamous Cambodian ‘Killing Fields’ genocide memorial outside Phnom Penh, a solemn place where thousands of people were taken for brutal execution and their first thought was to take a smiling selfie!
Maybe this is all a sign that Maggie and I are getting older but then in Darjeeling, on a visit to a Tibetan Refugee Centre we read the following quotation from the Dalai Llama entitled ‘The Paradox of our Age’:
“We have bigger houses and smaller families
More conveniences, but less time;
We have degrees but less sense;
More knowledge but less judgment;
More experts, but more problems.
More medicine, but less healthiness.
We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but we have trouble crossing the street to meet our new neighbor.
We have built more computers to hold more information to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication.
We’ve become long on quantity but short on quality.
These are times of fast foods and slow digestion;
Tall men and short character;
Steep profits and shallow relationships.
It is a time when there is much in the window and nothing in the storeroom”.
This strikes so many chords with what we are experiencing as we go about our travels in this world yet, moan as I may about selfies and smart phones, our planet is still a wondrous place and 99% of the people who inhabit it are beautiful. We are still on the road and still savouring the spice of life as a pair of nomads. Coming next is the ride through southern Thailand, then Malaysia, Indonesia and eventually Australia and New Zealand. We hope you will stay with us for the ride…